Coruscant’s large, yellow sun shone upon the endless city. The skyscrapers gleamed, poking up through the haze that masked the lower levels as if concealing the depths from the sensitive eyes of the affluent classes in their penthouses.
Lord Koraetor Mandalore sat with his chief executives in a large boardroom. The assembled management were seated around a wide, polished table with videoscreens set into each seating position. The windows were wide and expansive, allowing plenty of daylight to enter, although strips of white cloth that stretched from floor to ceiling blocked the view. Mandalore expected his employees to concentrate in the matters in hand, not to daydream by gazing out of the window.
The Liaison Group Meeting was in progress, a regular gathering between Mandalore and his Senior Management. The subject was Sorensia and the recent demonstrations and riots that had shaken the industrial planet.
"There were several hundred shot," said Maswell Parcrode, the Director of MHG Security, "and over a quarter of a million arrested." Maswell was a burly Iktotchi with a large, gold stud protruding from his left horn and a colourful tattoo on the hide of his neck. He had sold his security empire to MHG some years ago, making himself a tidy fortune in the process. Now, he was in charge of the privatised police forces enfranchised to Mandalore.
"The demo started peacefully," continued the Iktotchi in his gravelly, matter-of-fact voice, ‘but certain criminal elements took over."
Mandalore nodded at Parcrode. He was well aware of the "criminal elements" about which his security chief was referring. "Thankyou, Maswell. Thanks to Lady Fett, the two Jedi on the planet were apprehended. One, the Master, was killed, but the apprentice escaped."
"Intelligence has been alerted, My Lord," added Maswell, "and a description has been circulated throughout our forces."
"Good-good," said Mandalore without emotion. "Have the Special Police managed to calm things down?"
"Yes, My Lord. All plants are now operating at maximum capacity and the cities are under curfew. The shocktrooper units have orders to shoot on sight anyone found outdoors beyond the permitted hours. We’ve closed the spaceports at Doran Totli, Kippacks and Barnstle, and we’ve placed a Dreadnought in orbit to discourage nosy visitors. The Legal Department has assured me that this is all above board."
"Excellent," said Mandalore coldly. "You’ve done well, Maswell." He cast his deep, black eyes around the table, catching sight of a middle-aged woman seated at the far end of the table, dressed in an attire inappropriate for her advancing years. Her hand was raised, seeking permission to speak. "What is it Erleece?"
"What’s happening with Senator Thraurrallgisc, My Lord?" Erleece spoke in a voice made rough by her almost constant smoking.
"As you’ve probably heard by now," said Mandalore, "Senator Thraurrallgisc has been arrested on a number of charges, namely criminal damage, assault, and flying a starship with false papers. Thraurrallgisc is also suspected of inciting our Sorensian workers to riot."
"Where’s he now?" asked Erleece.
"At the moment," said Maswell Parcrode, "he’s being held on Sorensia pending further inquiries."
"Believe me," added Mandalore darkly, "that meddling Wookiee’s career will be in ruins by the time we’ve finished with him."
* * *
Sarolyn Lordan was awoken by the tolling of a clock-tower bell. It was six o’clock in the morning, local time; and it was light outside. She pulled back the curtains and stared out of the window as she tied her hair back into its usual pigtail, safely concealing her Padawan’s braid in the process.
The ground and rooftops were still wet from the last night’s rain and the sky was veiled with hazy cloud. The cloud cover had subdued the sun enough for it to be safely viewed without discomfort, and it hung in the sky like a washed-out, yellow pill.
Sarolyn quickly dressed, donning her beige robe, a garment not only used by the Jedi but by many of the more humble citizens of the Republic. She packed her long, brown cloak, or to be strictly accurate, one of Bil-Kit’s old cloaks that she had "borrowed" to replace her own garment that had been ruined during the fighting on Sorensia. The rest of her belongings followed the cloak into her holdall as she methodically packed her things.
The appetising smell of cooking drifted up from the kitchen, and the sound of the table being laid greeted Sarolyn’s ears as she picked up her holdall and went downstairs.
Maré stood smiling in the kitchen, and Gertran was seated at the dining table, hunched over a flat, portable teleweb as he read the day’s news. He paused every so often to take a swig from his mug of tea. The radio chattered over the kitchen sounds.
"Did you sleep well, Sara?" asked Maré as Sarolyn entered the kitchen.
"Yes, thankyou, although the storm woke me up."
Maré gently shooed Sarolyn out from the kitchen. "Take a seat at the table, dear, and I’ll bring you a cup of tea,’ she said kindly. ‘Would you like a full Naboo breakfast?"
"That’s very kind of you," said Sarolyn politely, "but— "
Maré was having no buts. In her opinion, the girl was a long streak of nothing, and it looked like she needed feeding up. "If you’re going to be scrubbing floors all day long, Sara, you’ll need a good breakfast, otherwise you’ll fade away." Maré cracked a pair of eggs into a frying pan and added a few rashers of shaak bacon alongside. They began to sizzle as a handful of chopped mushrooms were added to the pan. "It’s on the house, dear," smiled Maré as she poured Sarolyn a mug of strong, marktree-flower tea.
Sarolyn thanked her host and sat down at the table. Gertran still had his nose in his vidscreen and the radio continued its chattering. Sarolyn listened to the morning news as she sipped her herbal tea.
"...Thraurrallgisc of Sorensia," said the newsreader in the contorted vowels of formal Naboo pronunciation, "was arrested yesterday on a number of charges. He is currently being held on Sorensia for questioning with the recent waves of unrest there.
"On Coruscant, the flu epidemic in continuing to claim lives, particularly amongst the less privileged members of the community. Our Senate correspondent, Yenni Bund reports."
The newsreader’s voice gave way to that of a stern-sounding woman:
"Minister Cip Whyteleafe has voiced great concern over the epidemic, and is working closely with MHG Pharmaceuticals to find a workable vaccine. Reports from are optimistic that an airborne antivirus that could eradicate the flu would be developed within a week..."
Gertran turned to Sarolyn as Maré entered the dining room carrying two plates piled high with greasy, fried food. "It’s getting worse, you know," he said in reference to the news reports. "It says on the teleweb that they may have to introduce quarantine." Gertran sighed. "Can you imagine what could happen if it found its way here?"
"Gertran, put that wretched videoscreen away for goodness sake!" scolded Maré as she set the plates upon the table. "All this flu’s a big fuss about nothing. Anyway, it won’t come here. After all, Naboo’s a long way from the Core." The frail old lady motioned to Sarolyn, who seemed to hesitating over her meal. "Do start, dear," she said as she returned to the kitchen for her own breakfast.
* * *
Out on the plain, Ayo Verna and Yarua packed away the tent, rolling it up and tying it to the Wookiee’s rucksack. Yarua held the rucksack open so that Zibeon could climb in. The Zez was small and light, so he little difference to Yarua's load.
Ayo turned to his companions and Zibeon poked his head from Yarua’s rucksack, surveying his surroundings with interest.
"We’ve got a bit of a trek in front of us," said Ayo as he pointed to a distant mountain range. "According to the map, Fort Myreion’s on the other side of those hills, not far from the town of Myreionill."
Yarua growled, asking Ayo how far they had to travel.
"I’d say about a hundred miles in total," said Ayo as he rustled the map. Yarua grunted painfully. One hundred miles was, in his opinion, a very long distance to walk.
"We’ve got plenty of time," said Ayo, sensing Yarua’s discomfort. "We’ll try and make to the foot of the hills by nightfall, then we shouldn’t be too far from the farm."
Yarua nodded in agreement and grunted as Ayo hoisted his rucksack over his shoulders. As the clouds began to gather overhead, the three of them commenced their long journey across the wide plains of Naboo.
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